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Rev. Walter DWORECKI






A.K.A.: "Iron Mike"
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Murder for hire - To collect insurance money
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: August 7, 1939
Date of birth: 1897
Victim profile: His daughter, Wanda Dworecki, 18
Method of murder: Strangulation
Location: Camden, New Jersey, USA
Status: Executed by electrocution on March 28, 1940

Guilty Pastor

Monday, Sep. 11, 1939

One night last month dull, unbeautiful Wanda Dworecki, 18, was strangled and beaten to death near a Camden, N. J., cemetery.

Police noted that her seamy, brooding father, the Rev. Walter ("Iron Mike") Dworecki (of the First Polish Baptist Church) had insured her for $2,695, that he had once been charged with lucrative arson by a fire insurance company.

Last week a onetime boarder in the Dworecki home, 21-year-old Peter Schewchuk, confessed that at Pastor Dworecki's behest he killed Wanda while her parent was out preaching, got 50¢ for the job from Father Dworecki. Along with Peter Schewchuk, he pleaded guilty. The judge changed their plea to "not guilty." New Jersey law prohibits guilty pleas in capital cases, on the theory that first-degree murderers deserve a full trial as well as the electric chair.


Life is Cheap

Perhaps the cheapest price for a hit in the 20th century was paid by the Rev. Walter “Iron Mike” Dworecki to carnival roustabout Peter Schewchuck for the slaying of Dworecki’s troublesome, yet heavily insured daughter, Wanda Dworecki, in 1939.

The contract, which paid Schewchuck four bits to kill Wanda, has the buying power of $7.25 today.

Iron Mike Dworecki and his daughters lived in Camden, N.J., where the reverend enjoyed a reputation as a hellfire-and-brimstone preacher who was a leader of the Polish Baptist church community in Camden.

On August 7, 1939, Iron Mike was across the Delaware River in Philadelphia casting out the Devil at a tent revival when the body of an unidentified young woman with reddish-brown hair wearing a corsage of red and white roses turned up in a quiet area outside Camden, N.J.

The corpse was found near Camden’s “Lover’s Lane” around 10 p.m. Robbery may have been the motive, because no purse was found near the body, although she was wearing a small diamond ring.

The girl had not been sexually assaulted, but she was viciously attacked (are there any homicidal attacks that aren’t vicious?). The cause of death was asphyxiation, which was apparently done manually.

Her killer had grabbed the girl in a headlock so tightly that it caused a brain hemorrhage and not only broke the hyoid bone, as one would expect in a strangulation, but fractured her collar and breast bones. For good measure, the killer dropped a heavy rock on her head.

The Camden cops began a murder investigation, with identifying the victim as their first priority. They didn’t have long to wait.

At 1:30 a.m., Iron Mike arrived at police headquarters to make a missing persons report. He told police that he had been wandering the streets looking for his daughter, Wanda, 17, who left the family home at 6:30 p.m., telling her younger sister that she was leaving to buy “stockings and ice cream.” She never returned home, he said.

Because the Dworecki home was just a few blocks from the location of where the unidentified body was found, Iron Mike was led to the county morgue to view the girl’s body. He took one look and promptly fainted.

“My poor Wanda,” he sobbed after being revived with smelling salts.

Although they had not recognized her corpse, police knew Wanda Dworecki. Wanda was apparently popular with the boys, and her father had been warned by police in Camden that if she wasn’t careful, she would end up getting seriously hurt. Reportedly, on two separate occasions Wanda’s interest in men resulted in her being “molested, beaten or threatened.”

In April 1939, Wanda was kidnapped by two men. They gagged her and threw her into their car. She was beaten and then thrown from the vehicle in a rural area of Salem County, New Jersey, south of Camden. Wanda spent several weeks in the hospital recovering from a skull fracture.

She was shown mugshots of men suspected of the crime, but Wanda was unable to identify any of her attackers.

A few weeks before Wanda was slain, a caller allegedly rang up her father and threatened the girl’s life.

“Tell Wanda to shut up, or someone is going to get killed,” Iron Mike told police the caller growled.

Police only had two leads in the murder investigation. First, Wanda was not wearing the corsage when she left home, her younger sister told authorities. Second, they found a witness who said she saw a girl matching Wanda’s description standing in front of a bank in downtown Camden, apparently waiting for someone.

Another witness saw a “blond giant” cross the thoroughfare and approach Wanda, and a third confirmed that she walked away with the man.

The Rev. Dworecki told the police that he was convinced the men who previously assaulted his daughter were responsible for her murder, but it wasn’t long into the investigation that authorities looking into Iron Mike’s background uncovered some interesting facts.

For a man of the cloth, the reverend was not without sin. He had once been convicted of being a paper-hanger for passing bogus $5 bills. He was given five years on probabtion. At the time of Wanda’s death, Dworecki was out on bail awaiting trial for an arson fire in Pennsylvania. He allegedly torched a building that he owned for the insurance money.

After moving to Camden, Dworecki was accused of assaulting a neighbor boy. He allegedly fractured the boy’s jaw with a broomstick after he became angered by the boy’s loud baseball game.

However, it was the fact that the Rev. Dworecki had taken out more than $12,000 in insurance on Wanda’s life that really attracted the attention of police. That has the buying power of nearly $175,000 in 2007.

Collecting on insurance was nothing new to Iron Mike. A year before Wanda died, the minister’s wife collapsed and died at the breakfast table. The attending physician put her cause of death as lobar pneumonia. Dworecki collected $2,500 in life insurance ($36,000 in 2007).

After Dworecki was widowed, and while Wanda was recovering from her assault, Iron Mike hired 21-year-old Peter Schewchuck to help around the house. A tall, tow-haired young man from Chester, Pennsylvania (where Dworecki torched his building), Schewchuck was Wanda’s on-again, off-again boyfriend, and police suspected he was the blond giant who met Wanda in front of that Camden bank.

But Schewchuck was nowhere to be found. He remained on the lam for nearly a week before he showed up at his father’s home in Chester. Police brought him back to Camden for questioning, where in return for a cigarette, he confessed to killing Wanda at Iron Mike’s request.

“I met him in Philadelphia the same night (Wanda was killed),” Schewchuck told police. “He gave me 50 cents to cover my expenses and then went to conduct his religious services. I met Wanda and we strolled down the street.”

They walked past the local high school toward a Lover’s Lane where Schewchuck said he “suddenly felt the urge to kill.” He strangled Wanda there, caved in her skull with a rock for good measure, and fled.

“Choke her, hit her with a rock, twist her neck,” Dworecki instructed his hired killer. “Make sure she’s done.”

He was supposed to collect $100 from Iron Mike, but the scheme fell through before he could be paid.

When Iron Mike was brought to the jail and saw Schewchuck, he realized the game was up. He confessed then and there to hiring the carny to kill his daughter.

Shortly after, Dworecki and Schewchuck pleaded guilty in a Camden courthouse. However, because of a quirk in New Jersey law at the time, the judge could not accept the guilty pleas because the state wanted to put the men in the electric chair.

About a month after he was arrested, Dworecki went to trial and was convicted of murder-for-hire. The chief witness against him was Schewchuck. Dworecki was given the death penalty. In return for his cooperation, Schewchuck escaped the chair and was sentenced to life behind bars.

On March 28, 1940, the Rev. Walter “Iron Mike” Dworecki became the first clergyman in the history of the Garden State to be executed for murder.



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